An investigation into child pornography prompted the Vatican to recall one of its diplomatic personnel from Washington DC last month. The Holy See announced the move today, and report that officials have begun an investigation into the priest’s activities. For now, however, the name of the priest has been withheld under a policy of “investigative confidentiality”:

A Vatican diplomat based in Washington has been accused of violating child pornography laws and has been recalled to Rome.

The priest, who has not been identified, is currently in the territory of the Vatican City State, and Vatican prosecutors have opened an investigation.

A statement from the Vatican press office said the U.S. State Department notified the Vatican’s Secretariat of State of the allegations on August 21.

The State Department did a little more than just notify the Vatican embassy of the probe. They wanted the embassy to withdraw the priest’s diplomatic immunity in order to proceed with prosecution in the case, the Associated Press reports:

A high-ranking priest working in the Vatican’s embassy in Washington has been recalled after U.S. prosecutors asked for him to be charged there and face trial in a child pornography investigation, Vatican and U.S. officials said Friday.

The diplomat was suspected of possessing, but not producing or disseminating, child pornography including images of pre-pubescent children, a U.S. source familiar with the case said. The source was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

This would make the second time that the Vatican has had to recall a diplomat for a sex scandal in the last four years. They recalled Monsignor Jozef Wesolowski from the Domenican Republic in 2013, not long after Pope Francis’ election, rather than have him remain to face trial for abusing young boys. After defrocking him in an ecclesial court, Weselowski lost his diplomatic immunity, but the Vatican did not extradite him or assist in locating the former envoy, who passed away before the Holy See could try him themselves in their criminal court. On top of that, Cardinal George Pell resigned his position as financial chief earlier this year when he voluntarily returned to Australia to face abuse charges.

This time around, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops wants a transparent process. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, its president, called for more details from the Vatican, and that “immediate steps” be taken to ensure the protection of children impacted by the alleged conduct:

“We hope the Holy See will be forthcoming with more details,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, conference president. “While we don’t know all the facts, consistent with our charter, we reaffirm that when such allegations occur, an immediate, thorough, and transparent investigation should begin in cooperation with law enforcement, and immediate steps be taken to protect children. The protection of children and young people is our most sacred responsibility.”

After being notified of the probe by the State Department, the Vatican told the US that the matter had been referred to the “promoter of justice at the Vatican tribunal,” which is the office overseeing prosecutions within the city-state. Spokesman Greg Burke outlined the potential penalties if the priest gets convicted:

Burke also referred reporters to section 10 of the supplementary norms, which discuss criminal penalties for a person found guilty of producing or selling and trading child pornography; in those cases Vatican law foresees a maximum of 12 years imprisonment and a fine of up to 250,000 euros ($299,000).

That’s a little more lenient than US sentencing guidelines for similar offenses, depending on the circumstances. Those convicted here of producing such material would get 15-30 years, with potential extenders depending on the brutality involved. A trafficking conviction would get five to 20 years. Assuming a successful prosecution by the “promoter of justice,” the net sentence could still be roughly similar.

It’s hardly a welcome development, but this case does give Pope Francis a chance to demonstrate whether the Catholic Church’s leadership has learned its lessons from the decades-long abuse scandals around the world. Transparency is indeed key, but so is recognition of the need for follow-through and consequences that matter.